Community Newspapers — Are they right for you?

There in excess of 1000 English and French community newspapers in Canada currently. Virtually every major and minor market in the country is covered by one or more community papers. But how effective are they? It used to be that gauging the readership, retention and demographic information of community paper readers was difficult.

National advertisers looking to get their message out to millions of people across the country were hesitant to use community newspapers as a marketing medium of choice. In fact, according to the Canadian Community Newspaper Association, only 12% of community paper advertising was booked by national accounts, and of that, most of the buys were flyer inserts. While these national advertisers realized that over 75% of all Canadian households received at least one community per week, the hard readership numbers and independent audited figures were simply not available.

In 2002, the CCNA (Canadian Community Newspaper Association) launched an independent service called ComBase, short for Community Newspaper Research Database. For the first time, a detailed and accurate picture of community newspaper readership numbers and habits were becoming available. The pilot project worked extremely well and ComBase now provides regular reports to community papers, advertisers and ad agencies who subscribe to the service.

The results of the pilot surveys were very encouraging for the community newspaper industry. With over 24,000 interviews conducted in five distinct markets, the survey concluded that community papers are read by over 69% of recipients. BC scored the highest in the country with a 79% readership rate compared to roughly 63% for the dailies. Readers on average spend over 27 minutes a week reading their local paper which indicates that people really spend time with their papers.

Community newspaper provide advertisers a unique opportunity to reach a very specific market segment. (their community) While the cost/1000 in what is called reach may be more than the daily papers, the community newspaper vehicle offers some distinct advantages over other forms of advertising. Total market reach is the first and most obvious advantage of a community paper, meaning the product is delivered to virtually 100% of households within a specific target market. With a very local focus in news and opinions, these medium strikes a chord with readers and they are “thinking locally” while reading the publication. It therefore stands to reason that advertising messages from local retailers, merchants and service providers will be received in that content.

Another clear advantage for community papers is that they tend to stay around the house longer than a daily and compare favorably with broadcast media in ad retention. (more about that later).

According to the ComBase study for the lower mainland, 75% or readers have read a community paper in the last week, while only 53% read yesterday’s daily. In fact 26% of readers are “exclusive” meaning the community paper is their only source of print media. As well, these readers tend to be very loyal with a strong majority of those surveyed reading all four of the previous four issues of their community paper.

Flyer inserts in community papers are one of prime reasons people tend to like their community paper. While many people don’t read flyers on a regular basis, those who do prefer flyers that come with a community paper over those in the daily publications by a margin of almost 4 to 1 according to the ComBase studies.

With broadcast media such as radio and television getting more and more fragmented, looking for a medium that will deliver most if not all of a particular target audience is critical. I would never advocate using only one media source as your only advertising vehicle. A sound marketing and advertising strategy requires a variety of mediums to reach your market effectively. Having said that, if your goal is to reach every household in a particular geographic region at a cost that is reasonable, community newspapers make a very viable option. With reliable statistics from ComBase to measure the effectiveness of these papers, you are now in a position to make a more informed advertising choice than ever before.